Meat still on sale three days after first E.coli alarm

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The Independent Online
COOKED meat provided by the Lanarkshire butcher John Barr was still on sale at a small town store nearly three days after the alarm was first raised over a food poisoning outbreak, an inquiry heard yesterday.

Pies and similar products supplied by Mr Barr were taken off the shelves of the Scotmid supermarket in High Street in Bonnybridge, central Scotland, on Monday 25 November 1996.

But cooked meat supplied by Mr Barr remained on sale for a short time, Mary Halliday, a shop assistant, told the inquiry into the world's worst outbreak of E.coli O157 food poisoning in which 21 elderly people died.

After she served one customer with a portion of cooked meat, she pressed a key on her weighing machine and noticed John Barr's name on the label that came out.

"When I handed the customer her cooked meat, I thought 'that's John Barr's'. I looked at the superviser and she must have thought the same because she took it off sale," she told the inquiry. It was at that point that the store cleared its shelves of the John Barr cooked meat products.

The inquiry, which is being held in Motherwell, has heard in earlier evidence that John Barr's shop in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, was first implicated in the outbreak on the previous Friday and Saturday, and health chiefs met Mr Barr at his home late on Friday night.

On Saturday health officials went to John Barr's shop, a press release was issued, and Sunday newspapers publicised the outbreak.

A senior member of staff at Scotmid has already told the inquiry that on the Sunday, he was unaware the chain's stores sold John Barr's cooked meats as Mr Barr assured him that day that he only supplied Scotmid with sausage products.

Mrs Halliday told the inquiry that she had noticed Sunday newspaper headlines about the outbreak, but had not read the story.

When she arrived for work on the Monday, senior staff at the shop ordered John Barr's pies to be removed from sale, but the cooked meat remained on sale until about 10am - the point at which she noticed Mr Barr's name on the label produced for her customer.

Later that day senior staff arrived from Scotmid's head office.

Mrs Halliday told the inquiry that the store, formerly run by the Bonnybridge Co-operative Society, had only been taken over by Scotmid three months previously.

It was after the takeover that Mr Barr's firm began supplying the shop, making near-daily deliveries.

She told the inquiry that she herself ate meat bought from the shop, including a pie she had bought on the Friday.

She later tested positive for E.coli but did not become ill.

But her six-year-old daughter had diarrhoea and was off school for a week, she said.

n The number of people in Scotland suffering from food poisoning have more than doubled in the last 10 years, the Scottish Office revealed yesterday. Annual notifications for food poisoning have risen from 4,230 in 1985 to 10,234 in 1996.